Thursday, August 18, 2016

Racing - CCAP Tuesday Night Race - Bs, Too Cooked To Know To Sprint

My normal ritual on Tuesdays is to start preparing for the races by about 2 PM. The Missus gets home just before 5 PM and the goal is to have my dad and Junior in the packed car, idling, waiting for her.

This has not happened yet.

My race prep actually starts a bit earlier than that, with shifting tasks earlier to free up the time from 2 PM on. So, as expected, at 2 PM, Junior was upstairs napping, and I had my dad at the table. It's been a difficult last few days, with a minor leak with the toilet (due to my dad's uncontrolled descent onto the thing, slamming into the tank with his back). So with all the stuff that's happened in the last few days things seemed to be going well.

Normally my dad takes a minute to get going so I checked the weather. It was supposed to be partly cloudy, virtually no chance of rain, and in the mid-upper 80s by race time.


The first hint of the derailment was that my dad didn't start to eat for 90 minutes. I tried all sorts of stuff but he'd either not open his mouth or he would just hold the food in his mouth. It's food that he eats regularly so it wasn't like I was feeding him something yucky. He finally started to swallow food but now I was starting to have some schedule anxiety. Junior would be up shortly and then my race prep efficiency would drop pretty dramatically.

Then it started pouring.

I refreshed the weather site and now it said thunder and lightning for the next little bit, clearing up by 4:00 PM or so. The cloud cover seemed to be over us at that moment but moving out of the area.

When I checked the hourly at the race venue it said no rain, but then it said that here also. 

With race time at 6 PM I hoped that the course would be dry.

Junior did get up but then played quietly on his own, allowing me to gather my race stuff. I'd need to get the bike, SRM, and shoes from the basement. Helmet, cam, gloves, and heart rate strap from the "stuff to bring to the race" spot upstairs. I needed to pack the cooler with bottles of ice water, a couple sandwiches for Junior. Then from the garage the folding chairs for the non-racers, my race wheels, and the first aid kit.

I got the upstairs stuff out to the car fine, plus the chairs. I decided to get the bike on the roof because that's part of the stuff I can do outside. I prefer to put the cooler and the race wheels in the car last because it's usually so hot outside and I don't want the race wheels baking in a 180 degree car oven.

I went to go downstairs but got distracted by one of our cats rubbing his butt on the floor, something unusual. He left a trail of poo and so I cleaned that up, washed my hands, all that kind of stuff.

I sensed the time slipping away.

I trotted downstairs to get my bike. The bike room is off limits to the cats so the door is always closed. I opened the door and actually swore out loud.

The "slightly leaking tank" upstairs had translated into water coming through the ceiling and into the bike room.

The rug was soaked. Everything was wet with water spatter.

I grabbed my shoes, literally being dripped on from the (finished) ceiling, and ran upstairs. I ran around a bit, got an empty litter box bucket (we buy in buckets, not jugs), and put it under the water coming through the ceiling.

I tried to shut off the supply line. Although it slowed it didn't stop. I removed the flapper so that the water wouldn't build up in the tank. I mopped up the floor as best I could. And I directed a fan onto the floor to increase evaporation rates (and kept the AC cranked to keep the air dry). I put my shoes on the floor in front of the fan, to dry them off.

Time was bleeding pretty quickly now.

After some quick mental calculation, some time-money-life balance factors, I decided that I'd still prepare to go to the race. If in the next hour the water was pouring into the basement then I'd skip the race, but I really wanted to race and I thought that any damage would be limited to whatever already got damaged.

I spent some time picking up the cluttered bike room floor. Got my bike out of there and onto the roof of the car (getting the bike outside involves two staircases, two 180s, a number of 90 deg turns, and a lot of scuff marks on the walls). Pumped up the race wheels but left them in the cool garage. Bike locked, rear wheel strapped down, I went back inside.

I started assembling the cooler. I was putting water in the bottles at the sink when I looked outside.

It was pouring.

I thought for a moment about the bike on the roof. Then the car. Did I open the windows like I normally do? Was the garage door open? I carefully thought.

I did not open the car windows. I closed the garage door.

I kept filling the bottles.

I got Junior dressed, shoes on, everything. Cooler was assembled. Dad dressed. I can't remember what I was doing when the Missus came home but she came in and one of the first things she asked me was where I had my shoes. She's taken inventory of the car in the driveway and noticed that the shoes weren't in the car.

Doh! They were in front of the fan in my dad's bathroom!

I went and checked. Shoes were dry. Floor was damp but not puddled. Went and checked basement. Okay. Very little water in the bucket, no more water coming off the ceiling.

It was race time!

We headed out a little after 5. I was already pretty frazzled but the drive to the race was pretty calming, and we got there with a bit of time to spare.

Waving to Junior while doing a warm up lap.

The wind was just howling when we got there, the sky blue with white clouds everywhere. As far as I could tell the downpours at home hadn't been here.

I decided to use the Stinger 4 front wheel, the 45 mm tall wheel, instead of the Stinger 7 / 75 mm wheel. I figured that would be better for the wind. We'd gotten there early enough that I could do a lap or two, and the Stinger 4 felt stable even in a strong crosswind.

Start of the race.

A decent number of people showed up for this week, the last one of the season. For me this would be my last race of the season, period. With no more venues this close to the house I really can't think about doing any of the upcoming races.

Gaps opening up by the end of the first lap.

The racing started pretty quickly, with a move causing a gap to open within the first lap of the race. I struggled to get going; I hoped this wasn't a sign of things to come.

Wind from the left.

The wind really hit us from the left on after Turn 3, on the final stretch. This meant sheltering to the right. The final stretch curves left but the wind was such that even at the start/finish you really wanted to be seeking shelter to the right. This meant rolling up near the curb each lap, something that can get tricky if everyone is looking to shelter there. At the same time it's sort of fun, to be fighting for wheels on the curb, I felt sort like it was actually bike racing, not just riding my bike.

Race neutralized.

At some point in the race there was a crash after Turn 1. The race got neutralized as they got everyone off the ground. I stopped to offer the first aid kit but it seemed that everyone was okay without it. One rider went to the hospital, a Junior. Hopefully he's okay.

Race back on.

After a number of neutral laps, where everyone really did go neutral, the race was back on.

Big attack.

I found myself withering out there. The heat, the relentless attacks, I was absolutely at the limit. I remember one time sitting on wheels near the front when someone attacked. Everyone responded except me. I couldn't get out of the saddle, I couldn't spin.

Gapped off temporarily.

Finally someone rolled by me, I clawed my way onto their wheel, and we got back on. A short time later, maybe within a lap or so, there was even a bigger move.

An even bigger attack.

This time I couldn't go at all. I watched them ride away from me. A teammate warming up for the A race rolled by, yelling encouragement.

I hoped that the field would ease a bit but I figured that my chances of catching back on were minimal at best. I started to roll near the start/finish. Then I noticed the field soft pedaling. They had not just eased up, it looked like they had just stopped racing. It was like...


That was the sprint.

The race was over.

I don't know the last time I was so cooked that I didn't realize it was the end of the race. In reviewing the clip I could see and hear the bell but when I was actually racing nothing registered.

After the race.

I rolled around to the start/finish again and spotted Junior. He was trying to find a garbage can so I helped him with that. Then we headed over to base camp, where the Missus and Pops were hanging out.

Junior and the bike.

We had to get going, with the water situation uncertain at home. So after a brief rest, where I recovered a bit and watched in amazement as the As raced around at warp speed, we headed out.

At home I was zonked. Luckily the water was better - the basement was basically dry. We've since installed a new toilet (the next morning) and nothing, touch wood, is leaking.

For now, though, that's my 2016 racing season. I've done, what, like 8 races, all of them Tuesday Night Worlds. I started feeling a bit better towards the end, the sufferfest above notwithstanding.

I'm also already thinking about what's up next for me for racing, next season.
 - Lose some weight. I've been hovering at around 170-175 lbs most of the season. Being 160 lbs makes a huge difference. 155 lbs would be insane. 150 lbs is a dream.
 - Get the rocking trainer better. It's already helped a lot but I have ideas on making it better.
 - Do some outdoor sprints. Rocking trainer or not, I need to be able to do 100% jumps without worrying about slipping the tire or something. Even if it means sprinting up and down my street I think it's something I need to do a little more often than "never".
 - VO2 max intervals. They really helped in 2015. This year I did 6 total days of intervals, 3 weeks worth.
 - Get my SRM spiders working. Not having power is a bit frustrating because I have no idea if I'm actually stronger or not.

And, of course, clean up the bike room.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Racing - CCAP Tuesday Night Crit - Aug 9, 2016, Bs, Bryan and Vassos!

So I had this revelation a couple days ago. I'd revamped my trainer set up a bit and realized that I'd trained myself to ease into my sprints so the tire wouldn't slip on the trainer. Although that's fine for Zwift it's not good for real bike racing. I've felt like in the past few years I rarely got in a solid, solid jump, and I think this is the reason why. I stopped training outside, I stopped doing these massive stomp efforts, and instead I was doing these softer sprints on the trainer. Consider trying to jump into the draft of a passing truck - one chance to get it right and it takes a massive, massive effort.

I hoped that this evening I'd be able to do a proper sprint. Although I couldn't fix the power bit of my SRM (I screwed up something when I soldered in the last battery I think) I figured just doing the massive stomp/sprint would be a good thing to experience.

As usual I started getting ready while still at home, starting with pinning my number.

Pinned number.
My dad had a little crisis which distracted me. I forgot to finish pinning the #2.

Due to an accident on I-291 we decided to head into the heart of Hartford, taking the I-91 HOV lane. We knew we'd need to navigate regular I-84 to the Rent but it seemed worth it. Until we took a wrong exit and had to go past the exit, turn around, and get back. We got to the venue with a few minutes remaining before the start.

Fortunately for me the Juniors had the last race of their summer series and there was a bit of a delay after their finish. This meant that not only could I kit up and all that, I even had time to do a couple laps.

This Tuesday the weather ended up perfect. I think it was about 80 deg F with low humidity. There was some wind but it was opposite the normal wind, giving us basically a tailwind finish. The swirling wind around the stadium meant the right side crosswind was still there.

To my absolute shock two guys rolled up to me as I got on my bike - Vassos and Bryan. Vassos was one of my teammates a long time ago, in the mid-90s. He raced for a rival team until then but their core riders, led by a guy named Gene, moved over to Carpe Diem Racing. He's one of the few guys that I put in a clip commenting on the last of the Bethel Spring Series races (go to 6:19).

Bryan I've known since he was something like 15, we raced against each other for literally decades. For something like 20 years we talked about racing together on the same team, we have the utmost respect for one another, and only in 2011 did we get to race on the same team. It was after 2010 (when I defeated him in a very closely fought Bethel Spring Series finale) that he could move over to Expo. Ironically we pretty much never raced together because the first year I upgraded to 2 (2011) while he remained a 3 (but won the Bethel Spring Series in a dominating fashion), then Junior came along so I really backed off on the racing. We couldn't even do Masters races together that much because he's younger than me. His work cranked up at the same time so he stopped racing. This was the first race in three years for him, and, really, because he did one race here and there, he really hadn't "been a racer" since his successful 2011.

To see both these guys on the same day was an absolute bonus. I spent the extra time before our race chatting like mad with them. They admitted that they weren't sure about how they'd hold up in the race. I wasn't sure myself, seeing as I got shelled a bunch of times. I hoped the Juniors would take it easy on us.

Vassos (Class Cycles) and Bryan (Expo)

I did give them some advice while we rolled around. I pointed out some of the more diesel riders - they're the good wheels to follow when there are gaps everywhere because they just diesel along and gather everyone up. I also cautioned them on how strong the Juniors were, telling them the time a Junior pulled the field around the course for a while and when the group moved left I just stayed right and sat up. I was absolutely cooked just sitting on wheels.

Other than that it was just business as usual. Bryan is one of the rare riders that feels comfortable in a break as well as in a field sprint. Vassos is more a sprinter but he's often given up his chances to help friends or teammates. Both are exemplary team players, willing to cover moves, never taking a pull if a teammate is up the road, etc. Both are very crafty as well, combining good judgment with well honed race instincts. They're ideal teammates for sure.

We also had Esteban, Junior's new favorite teammate thanks to a delivery of a boxload of Thomas the Tank Engine tracks and accessories. He was more a break rider and he has what has got to be the best reading on team work habits I've ever seen. I don't think I've ever talked to him about tactics specifically but he knows exactly how to help me, how hard to pull, when to ease, everything, all to help me. I try to return the favor, basically by marking moves whenever he goes. I think, though, that the favors go more my way than his.

Junior waving over to the right.

As usual Junior was sitting with the Missus and my dad. I try to wave but it's not really good to do that in the middle of an intense part of a race. At first he was crushed when I didn't wave to him every lap but the Missus explained that if I was working hard I wouldn't be able to wave. So when I roll by, nose to my stem, hanging on for dear life, I'll not wave and be okay with it.

He'll turn to the Missus and say in a very serious tone, "Daddy is working hard."

Bryan off the front, to the left.

I think Bryan felt okay after a few laps because he launched a move. I'd done the same, on the second lap of the race. I didn't launch really but a guy was going up the road and no one was reacting. I was in the perfect spot, about 4-5 riders back, so I just put my hands on the hoods and rolled for a lap. I almost blew myself up but fortunately the pace didn't skyrocket after and I could recover. Bryan took my lead and did a little move. One rider bridged to him but then we all regrouped.

After Turn 3, shelter to the right.

The wind played its normal crucial role today. It was a crosswind at the start/finish, much better than the normal headwind we've seen all summer. This meant that the final stretch started out forcing the riders to seek shelter to the right (wind hitting us from the left). As the road curved left we'd sit a bit less to the side and a bit more behind.

Start/finish area, shelter to the right.

I'm sheltered to the right here, by the start/finish area. I remember times where the wind was much stronger from the left and everyone would be scrambling to avoid hitting the right side curb. Nothing like that tonight but I did get close now and then.

After Turn 1, shelter to the left.

Once we took the right at Turn one the wind hit us from the right side. To stay sheltered one had to move from the right side to the left side. This is tricky because you need to drift back off the wheel to your left, allow the wheel to cross a bit to the right, then move up to take shelter, all in the several seconds it takes to take the corner. You can see in the picture above that I'm sitting to the left of the rider in the red/orange helmet.

Note that the rider to my left is not really sheltered well. If he dropped back slightly behind me he'd be better protected, or if he moved up and sat between the two riders in front he'd be sheltered by the white/yellow rider on the red bike.

Backstretch after Turn 2, shelter to the left.

On the backstretch the wind still swirled around the stadium to our right so the wind hit us from the right. I stayed left to stay sheltered. This is the stretch I think I messed up most, I was on the right side most of the time.

Moved over to clear my nose.

I haven't done this in a while but I did so I wanted to point this out. I had clear my nose so I moved over to do so. Common courtesy. If it's in the throes of the bell lap or something I try to do it discretely and politely. But when things are tactically neutral I'll check, move over, clear my nose, check, and move back. Usually riders let you back in because otherwise next time you might just clear your nose in the field.

Sitting between two Juniors, comfortable.

One thing that surprised me was this bit. I was sitting between two Juniors. The thing was that I didn't realize this happened - it was a total non-event for me. That meant I was totally comfortable sitting there, I trusted the riders, yada yada yada. That's a good thing.

Sheltering right while everyone else in front of me is pretty much in the wind.

This shot struck me as well. I was sheltered to the right but everyone in front of me was lined up nicely in single file. Problem is that the wind is from our left a bit so it's better to sit to the right for shelter. I was soft pedaling here but I think others were working.

Esteban attacks (blue jersey, red shorts).
He'll solo to the line.

Esteban attacked at some point in the race. He rolled off (from the sheltered side, mind you) and quickly settled into a slightly-higher rhythm. He later admitted to me that he had a minor mechanical issue with his bike. To stay out of trouble he wanted to sit at the front and pull a bit.

Bryan (Expo) and me marking moves as Esteban gets clear of the last two riders chasing him.

Problem was that Bryan covered moves. I didn't cover per se but I wasn't moving and I was at or near the front. When the last two guys chasing Esteban sat up there was a momentary lull in the pace. That was all Esteban needed. His slightly-above-pack-pace pulled him away from the field and netted him an unexpected win.

My view for a few laps, until 2 to go.

Back in the field one of the super steady and willing to work riders sat the front, dragging all of us around for a few laps. I happened to be on his wheel when he went to the front so I sat there, second wheel, watching him work.

For the first time this year I felt a glimmer of form. My legs dropped quickly. I wasn't overchurning the gear, I could put a little stamp at the end of the pedal stroke.

Unfortunately I have zero data so I can't check cadence or HR or power. Hopefully I'll have things resolved for next week and I can get some data.

3rd person view, courtesy Jeff Cote.
My head is down, which apparently is my tell.
Also I'm not super close to the wheel.

So as not to be a total nimrod, note that my head is down here. Although I'm on the wheel I'm actually working pretty hard for me, my "glimmer of form" notwithstanding. I wasn't sure how this would end up but when I heard some uncharacteristic yelling by the start/finish I figured we had to be approaching the finish.

Sure enough we went by and I saw 3 to go. Second wheel, 3 to go, that's a bit forward. I knew there'd be a surge and I could get back into the field, sit 10 or 15 riders back, and see how things played out.

I waited for the surge.

Coming up on 2 to go the field went around.

Finally, just before 2 to go, the diesel pulled off, fortunately on the sheltered/right side. The field rolled by offering a massive amount of shelter (and they were on the correct side to offer me shelter). I checked to make sure I was clear and moved a bit to the left, into the field's protective embrace.

2 to go!

So at 2 to go I was sitting sort of on the side of the field. Riders naturally sat up or blew up in front, reducing the numbers between me and the air in front of the field.

I should point out that my philosophy for these B races has been the following:

1. Make it to the finish.
2. If I finish and there is no break, lead out the sprint for the field or for someone in particular.
3. If I finish and there is a break, try to do well in the field sprint.

Although Esteban was up the road, I was thinking selfish thoughts.

I really wanted to do a big sprint, to try and break that habit of easing into sprints. I also knew that this was the second-last week of the Tuesday Night races and, realistically, I wouldn't be racing anymore this season. If next week's race got rained out this would be the last race of the season for me.

Therefore selfish thoughts: I wanted to sprint for myself tonight.

Bell lap, just before Turn 1.

At the bell there were maybe 8 or 9 riders in front of me, other than Esteban of course. A couple small gaps opened up but I was more concerned with how far up the very front was relative to me. If there was a gap to close I'd deal with it later. If the front got too far away... that would make things challenging. Which wasn't a bad thing, it would just be challenging.

Bell lap, Turn 2.

Through Turn 2 and the front of the field stretched and contracted. A gap still existed between me (really the wheel I was following) and the front of the group. I still had confidence in my sprint though, and I figured that things would come together by Turn 3.

Bell lap, back stretch.

On the back stretch I knew the gaps in front of me were significant but I still felt things were closeable. The rider in front of me rallied and closed the gap just before we hit Turn 3. I think that if he didn't do it I'd have gone. Since he went the point was moot.

On a side note, if I was in the front group and noticed no one directly on my wheel (by looking down briefly to check shadows), I'd have turned around, checked for a gap behind me. If there was a gap I'd have jumped early. This is basically how I won that race in 2015, basically by accident, because I had a very small gap, just like the one above, with one turn to go before the finish.

Bell lap, just before Turn 3.
Bryan moved up hard here.

Fortunately for me no one went early up front (I think they even eased?) and the rider in front of me closed the gap in front of him. As we approached Turn 3, though, another twist in the plot appeared - Bryan rolled past me on the right.

Shelter will be to the right of green kit, behind Bryan in the red Expo kit.

I decided I wanted to get on Bryan's wheel after the turn. Since I wanted to be to the right exiting the final turn anyway, and since Bryan was there, I decided to move over a bit and follow him. If nothing else I could sit when he jumped, or I could jump around him, or something. It would work out.

Sheltered on the right going into the sprint.

We hit the final straight without any massive acceleration. The sprint opened up pretty late so we weren't going very fast at first. For some reason everyone was waiting for the jump, which, to be honest, is better for me.

I didn't consider jumping out of the last turn because I was too far back - if I was just a couple spots up I'd have jumped first, before the turn, especially with the relatively kind wind direction at the finish line. It'd be a fast sprint for sure and those usually work in my favor.

Early jumps seem to favor me as well, possibly a side effect of the long sprints on Zwift. One week I jumped halfway down the backstretch, sprinted for a total of 20 seconds, and had such a gap that I could soft pedal for 20 seconds to the line. This week I was focused on doing a big jump and a real sprint so I wanted to make my efforts in the last 200m to the line.

As the riders in white drift apart Bryan goes up the middle.
I hesitate to give him a chance to get clear.

As much as I wanted to do a big jump, I couldn't hurt Bryan's chances in the process. When the leadout guy started to fizzle the two riders just behind him hesitated, drifting left and right. This opened up a hole between them, one that just screamed to be jumped through.

Bryan responded.

For a moment I hesitated, getting a read on what the two riders would do. If they closed in to get on Bryan's wheel I'd have room to maneuver. Also I didn't want to go with Bryan because if a good sprinter was on my wheel I'd just drag them up to Bryan. I banked on using my jump to gap off whoever was on my wheel and then I could wind out the sprint to the line.

When he jumped I jumped also.

As Bryan hit out for the line (he's never raced here before so he hasn't done this sprint dozens of times like I have) I jumped as well, and as we got toward the straight part I absolutely drilled it.

Sweeping around Bryan on the sheltered right side.

At the course straightened out I stayed to Bryan's right. Friend or not, teammate or not, I wanted to be on the sheltered side. I shifted up a gear, did another jump, and looked back.

Bryan in full cry.

There was no one close, Bryan was sprinting to the line, his son was there, and I wanted Bryan to win the sprint.

3rd person shot, courtesy Jeff Cote.
I'm trying to calculate where I need to be to lose a tight sprint to Bryan.

As we approached the line I wanted to see how close I could get to Bryan without passing him. Junior doesn't care at this point if I win or not, but Bryan's son is older and I wanted him to see his dad win the sprint. I took a celebration away from his son six years ago when I knocked Bryan off the top step of the podium at Bethel. Even though this wasn't some Series finale I could at least pay my respects to a good friend and person.

No need to sprint harder so finagled it so Bryan pipped me at the line.
Half a wheel. I wanted to be 2-3 inches behind, not 13-14 inches behind.

I did a bike throw that I'd crucify myself for if I did it for real, just horrible form, really didn't throw the bike, yada yada yada. I'd have fired myself if I was my team director.

Problem was that I was a bit too cautious, I lost by about half a wheel. Note that his hub is on the crack (the finish line) and my tire is just there. I wanted it to be that the front part of his rim was just past the crack and my tire was there, just a few inches.

I know, I should have thrown my bike for real.

I looked over at Bryan, he looked back, and we grinned like fools.


Junior back pedaling the cranks.
Pops is back there, Missus is barely visible to the left.
Note long finger gloves which I always wear in races.

I headed back to our base camp. Junior wanted to turn the cranks, backwards because that's the only way they turn when the bike's stationary. I grabbed another bottle of ice water. I was a bit more tired than I realized and really need to pedal a bit. My stomp sprint took a lot of gas out of me and for the first time in a while I felt the need to spin a bit.

I liked this shot, it's an unusual angle.

I rolled along with Jeff, another teammate as Bryan and Vassos had to get going for a long drive home. Jeff and Bryan moved to Expo together back in 2011. In that oh-so-difficult race in 2010 Jeff was one of Bryan's teammates trying to isolate me, trying to help Bryan hold the Leader's Jersey. Their team rode strongly and fairly and I had the utmost respect for their efforts. Jeff, after he joined Expo, laughed about how their (opposing) team had gotten all amped up about beating me and how it just fell apart in the last lap of the last race. I veered off when we got back to the start/finish and let Junior walk my bike to the car (with my hand on the saddle).

Vassos and Bryan both said bye as I was putting the bike away (with Junior's "help"). I headed back to base camp to get my dad and walk him to the car, Junior holding my free hand; the Missus carried the chairs and cooler. With everything put away we headed home, the Missus driving as I was a bit lightheaded. I don't think I could stop talking about Bryan and Vassos, how surprised I was to see them at the race.

I know that my limited race schedule is a temporary thing and that eventually I'll be able to race more again. It's a sad thing though. I'm not itching to race all the time because I know what it will take before I can do that. Yes I would have raced at New Britain this year if I could because that's within the same range as the Rent. But, no, it's okay that I can't race any other races right now.

With things the way they are it's days like these that make it super fun. Friends from 20+ years back, good riders, good racers, having fun racing our bikes, and, at some level, taking my mind off of other things.

Next week will be the last CCAP Tuesday Night Race for 2016. Race and barbecue. Then for me it'll be a long pause until the 2017 season.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Equipment - Homemade Rocking Trainer

Last night I did my first ride on my home made rocking trainer. The goal behind the rocking trainer is to let the bike tilt left and right, like it does when riding out on the road.

The two obstacles (well three?) to a rocking trainer are:
1. Does it rock realistically?
2. Does it allow you to ride it without tilting inadvertently?
3. Does it provide enough resistance?

Realistic Rock?

The first is the main goal of the trainer, to be able to rock the bike realistically. What a lot of people don't realize is that when you rock your bike side to side while out of the saddle your bike actually tilts around the bottom bracket area, relative to your path. Meaning, yes, your bike tilts left-right with the tires as the axis, but when taking into account the slight wiggle you get when rocking the bike back and forth, the bike is really going in a straight line from about the bottom bracket area.

This means the tilt axis needs to be higher than the tires, closer to the bottom bracket. Your body is mostly stationary during out of saddle efforts (if your body moves then that's not the best), you're basically standing on the pedals, and the two pedals share one thing in common - they're anchored at the bottom bracket axle. This makes the bottom bracket the ideal pivot point.

If the axis is too low then you get the "my tires are stuck in a groove and I'm going to fall over" feeling", which is what it would be like if you actually pivoted around the tire/road junction.

Problem is if you have the axis too high then it gets a bit weird. Imagine if your head was the pivot point - the tires would slide back and forth a few feet as the whole bike/trainer assembly pivots around your head.

Can You Stay Upright?
The second is sort of crucial. Bikes stay upright because you can steer the bike while you move forward. Basically you catch yourself falling by steering into the fall, like if you're tilting right you steer right and now you're not falling, you're just turning right.

With a trainer there's no forward motion, meaning your bike isn't moving forward and therefore you can't really steer into a turn because you're not turning per se. Therefore it's a bit trickier to keep the bike from tilting.

The thing that helps to tilt the bike is to be able to steer the front wheel. The head tube angle and fork rake encourage the bike to lean if you turn the bar while the bike is stationary (by lowering the front of the bike). That allows the bike to tilt a bit where it wouldn't otherwise tilt.

My homemade rocking trainer.
The brown thing under the wood is a spacer to raise the left side just a touch.
Eventually I think I'll use wedges between the two pieces of wood.

Due to the forward hang of the trainer the base has to extend forward a bit. I made my base out of wood because I could, and I don't have welding skills.

Note that the folding arms and their mounts are removed from the front of the trailer (normally under where the trainer clamps the wheel). This was an all-or-nothing experiment.

I had this trainer frame after warrantying a blown up electronic trainer through CycleOps. Although I requested they send only the resistance unit (a Fluid2 since they discontinued the electronic unit at the time) they sent me a complete trainer. I suppose it's probably easier logistically to do that instead of stock a bunch of resistance units. Anyway end result was that I had an extra trainer frame. They don't wear out so I decided to use the spare to see what I could do with it.

View from above.

I've been thinking about the trainer and how to make it better. I think one thing would be to make the pivot point (where the plates are, see pictures below) below the bike, not behind it. This would support the bike better. Right now the bike dips a bit when I pedal, more when I pedal hard. It's to the point that I expect the tire to hit the floor/mats at some point.

Different view of the rocking area.

Although I asked my car friend to cut down the plates a bit, he ended up welding the plates in a different order. I wanted the top plate to be in the middle, so it could clear the other two plates while it rocked. It's okay, nothing hits so far.

(I gave my car friend a piece of plate steel in exchange for doing this work - the plate steel was probably 2'x3' and had to weigh 50-80 pounds... it was really heavy but it's stuff he could use for his car restoration hobby.)

Plates and bushings.
The plate angle was designed to allow the bike to pivot around 1/3 up from floor relative to BB.
The guy who welded everything painted it also, without me requesting the paint. Very nice.

You can see here that the plate welded to the trainer frame (middle one) is wider than the top plate. This was an error. The guy helping me out inadvertently swapped the two plates. If the narrower top plate was welded to the frame there'd be more room for it to rock.

I have to increase the height of the bushings as the trainer doesn't rock enough so I don't think I'll run into interference problems between the middle plate and the bottom one. If I do I'll have to try and cut down the middle plate. It's very tough to cut - the guy who welded it actually asked someone else with a plasma cutter to cut out the pieces for him. I don't have a plasma cutter. I may visit a machine shop nearby and ask them to cut the piece down.

A stock Kinetic Road Machine resistance unit.

The tire-roller junction is the weak point of the whole set up. I haven't done an all out sprint yet, just a few rolling jumps to make sure nothing would break, maybe 600-800w each. Nothing like 1000-1200w, and definitely no 10% jumps. However the tire slips if I do any kind of a super hard jump.

I got the KK Road Machine unit from a fellow racer. Note the spring - it's not curved around the corner. When I got the trainer the spring was curved around the corner. I didn't realize it but the various pieces of metal holding the old trainer were slightly bent. This meant I couldn't get as much clamp power to hold the roller to the tire. Now it's much better.

Note: This is a Kurt Kinetic resistance unit. The frame is a CycleOps frame that used to have a Fluid2 resistance unit on it. The frames and resistance units are interchangeable based on what I have experienced. Apparently KK has some deal with CycleOps where the frames are the same. Different mechanisms for adjusting tire tension (I prefer the CycleOps lever system although I haven't tried the two companies' newest systems) but obviously the resistance units fit one another's frames.

For the front a heavy duty lazy Susan with the front wheel holder.
This allows the front wheel to turn easily; I've turned it a bit to illustrate that.

I need to mount something to the metal lazy Susan, probably a thin piece of wood with the tire block mounted to it. The lazy Susan is an industrial strength one rated to a few hundred pounds, not something for the coffee mugs in the kitchen cabinet.

If I do that I'll need to raise the rear a similar amount, to keep the bike level. This isn't a bad thing since it would increase tire clearance to the floor.

How Does It Work?

Right now it's not working really well.

1. The rocking motion is too limited side to side. I feel like I want to move the bars another 4-6 inches to each side. That might be an exaggeration because I didn't use a tape measure or anything, but I don't think so. For sure the bike still feels too rigidly upright.

2. The bike doesn't tilt easily enough. I have to force the bike down to the side. It doesn't drop down naturally. I'm not sure what the solution is - maybe some bushings to the side of the main axis, soft ones, with the larger central bushings cut down a bit? I don't know. I'll have to think about this for a bit.

3. The rear tire gets very close to the floor.

4. The skewer has to twist in the trainer. Since the trainer frame is tilting forward on each downstroke, however slightly, the skewer twists inside the cups. Ultimately I'd like to have some kind of bushing type material or a separate cup for the skewer ends that rotates on its own.

5. Lack of peak power. The tire-roller interface is still the weak point of the whole set up because it slips at about 1100-1200w. This limits any peak power kind of efforts.

Going Forward

My ultimate trainer set up would be a reduction gear trainer like the one here, but that's a pipe dream for now. The challenge here is to mimic the inertia you have to overcome when accelerating without drivetrain/tire slip as well as rocking the bike like you do outside.

With the Kinetic Road Machine resistance unit you get some of that - the inertia and the exponential resistance. However there are two limitations.

First and foremost there is a definite element of drivetrain slip, aka tire slip. If I do a max effort downstroke the tire slips every time, so I've learned to tone down my initial jump by 300-400w. That's not a good habit to get into and it also prevents me from exploring max effort jumps indoors. I'm pretty sure this is part of the reason why my peak power is a bit lower nowadays - I've trained myself not to make big jumps nowadays. In 2008-2010 I was training outside a lot, I was doing many massive jumps, and I regularly hit significantly higher peak power numbers, 1400w whenever, 1550w on a great jump. Nowadays I think it's a big deal if I hit 1250w and many of my jumps are more like 1100w.

The other is the incorrect rocking motion. Without the bike tilting as much it just doesn't feel the same as it does on the road.

I can't do much on the drive train slip limitation. I can, though, work on the rocking bit, so that's my homework going forward. I'll also finish up the front tire mount as well.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Life - Ah, Life

So tonight we have the windows open, the sliding door to the porch open, and fans blowing air around the house. Okay, I have the fans blowing air around, part of my secret "I want to be a fluids dynamics engineer" thing in me. It's a solid 70 degrees outside, a perfect temperature, nice and cool, dry also, and quiet.

In the old days I'd have kitted up in my favorite set up - shorts, long sleeve jersey, long finger gloves. There's something about training with covered arms and bare legs that does it for me. It's even better if it's a bit cooler and I have to wear booties. I'd be rolling around on the bike, practicing bike throws, trackstanding at red lights with no one else at the intersection, sprinting for town signs all by myself.

I imagine it's different now, ten years later, but back then I'd probably have headed down to Summer Street in Stamford, CT to do some Summer Street Sprints. I liked this loop because it was all one way or medianed streets. There'd be no oncoming traffic unless a drunk turned the wrong way. Which was entirely possible based on what time of day I rode but I digress. The one way street and median streets gave me a fighting chance. At the time you could buy very good blinkie tail lights but headlights... they left something to be desired. So traffic from behind was okay, oncoming traffic, especially cars turning left, not okay.

Route is on gmap-pedometer here.
The "dot" in the lower right is the finish line.
Heading south is fair game. West, north, and east are neutral/easy.
If practicing leadouts you alternate, or, ideally, have three riders and one just sits on a given lap.

I discovered the loop sort of by accident. I'd just started managing the bike shop nearby but I had no idea how all the roads connected to one another. I remember learning to drive here four or five years prior and being so focused on other cars and shifting and stuff that I ran two red lights in a row through major, major intersections, they never even registered in my consciousness. I can't believe my mom didn't have a heart attack (or I didn't get ticketed or killed or whatever) but she didn't and I didn't and I eventually figured out how to not hit other cars and still look at the traffic lights.

At any rate the best way to learn an area is to walk or run it. I didn't do either much, plus it's sort of a big area to learn on foot, so I rode around, after the shop closed for the evening. Most of the streets were lit, the ones that weren't I could hop onto the sidewalk to stay away from cars, and the people seemed friendly enough. This was back in the crack cocaine days, where people were shooting each other at least weekly only a couple miles from where I lived. Therefore to feel "okay" riding around was a good thing.

Or naive, maybe. I got propositioned regularly by women of the night (scantily clad women calling out "Hey baby, want to party?" to me on a bike in lycra) and by men as well (rough looking men murmuring "What's crackin' man!" while making a smoking kind of gesture). But I made it out alive so I'll call it a good thing.

It was about an 11 mile ride to get to Summer Street if I rode from my house, just under an hour of pedaling at my "saving my legs for sprints" pace. Sometimes I arrived so fresh I had to warm up before I sprinted. Other times, when pressed for time, I'd arrive absolutely cooked, do a sprint, call it a day, and head back home, kicking myself all the way home for not driving over and doing more than one pathetic sprint.

I often drove to the loop to save my legs, parking on the side of the road, or if it was going to be dark. Then I could do a couple hours of sprints without worrying about the ride home; I didn't like riding home in the dark because Route One wasn't a great road to ride on without a good headlight. I'd still do a couple hours of sprints even if I rode there but that usually meant crawling home. I never thought of it as "a couple hours of sprints". Instead I'd do a sprint, think about how to make it better, then try again. Then after about 10 or 15 sprints I'd be really tired, look at the time, and think, "Oh, it's a couple hours, maybe I should go home."

When the shop was at the top of the loop it was simple - I just rode out of the shop. At the end of the ride I'd roll back into the shop, change, and head home.


I remember one of my teammates Sean, who lived a block over from Summer Street, showing up one night. He was driving by, saw me on the bike, knew I was doing the sprint loop, found my car, and parked next to it.

He had a WRX, a blue one. I had a blue 350Z. When he was thinking about what color car to buy I told him in no uncertain terms he had to get blue.

He wasn't super keen on it at first:
"Why blue?"
"It's a WRX. A W-R-X. It has to be blue. Think about Playstation! Rallying! WRXs are blue! BLUE! It's not a WRX if it's not blue."
"I was really thinking silver."

I almost had a heart attack.

Then later:
"I got the car."
"What color?"

Then when I got my car I got blue. Because I liked the blue - a few of the magazines had blue ones - but also because I had to stand by my conversation with Sean. If I got a silver or copper one he'd have been like WTF?? So a blue 350Z for me.

When I saw a blue WRX parked next to my Z I knew it had to be Sean.

I was sort of at that point where my legs were dying so when I saw him I turned around and rolled back to the car (on the sidewalk because one way streets). He had a huge grin on his face and he obviously couldn't wait to tell me something.

My then-not-really-my-girlfriend-although-Sean-knew-better happened to drive by also and she stopped to chat as well. What's funny is that when she bought her Civic I convinced her that blue was absolutely the color, because blue. So now there were three blue cars parked next to one another, and not really any other cars around.

I had met my girlfriend through Sean - they were formerly housemates in a large apartment. One day after a ride Sean and I went out for food. He stopped by his apartment to take a quick shower and that's when I met my future girlfriend. I helped her with a crossword puzzle for a bit and then Sean and I headed out for food.

At any rate just before my girlfriend showed up that's when Sean let me know the news - he was going to ask his girlfriend to marry him. He showed me the ring, it was very exciting, and I couldn't help but blurt out the news to my girlfriend.

The conversation quickly degenerated into "Oh my God!" and "I can't believe it" and "That's so awesome!" and stuff like that. I was facing south on Summer Street, toward the Dairy Queen (which is usually where you jumped for the crosswalk sprint line), when I saw a dark Pathfinder come flying out of a side street about 50 feet away. He had a red light for sure.

The pale blue Chevy Malibu heading into the intersection didn't have a chance.


The Pathfinder t-boned the Malibu, sending it spinning off to the side.

And we ran over. I was the first one to call in so I gave some details, then we hung around for a bit for the police to show up. They're everywhere in that area at night, one of the reasons I liked riding there, and so it wasn't a long wait. Fortunately no one was killed, which was amazing because the side of the Malibu was caved in. The Pathfinder hit head on so it was in reasonable shape. The side impact on the Malibu, jeepers.

The driver of the Malibu was an elderly woman and she was stunned. I had this moment of clarity where I realized that old people, with fragile hips and stuff, were totally different than, say, me at the time. I fall at a bike race and I get up and try to continue. If she fell off a bike it wouldn't be like that. For her to be okay said a lot for the design and build of the car.


Another time I had just started riding and another teammate, Bill, pulled up next to me. It was about 11 PM, I think on a Thursday (I usually went Thursdays) and I was amped and wired, probably had a Twinkie and a Coke just before, the shop favorite for a pick-me-up after a long day.

I got on the bike with the plan of doing sprints until 1 AM, when the bars closed, then when the streets cleared a half hour later I'd head home. I didn't feel threatened by the drunks - they were generally super supportive of my sprinting. I almost always got cheered on when I was making efforts and I rode off their energy. When the bars closed the energy dissipated, both from the streets as well as from me.

Bill rolled up to me and leaned out the window of his car.

"Been riding long?"
"Just started, I got on the bike a couple blocks back."
"You just started? When are you riding till?"
"I think one or so, after the bars close I'll stop."
"You're nuts, you know that?"

He paused.

"You know, next time you do this, give me a call."

I did a lot of laps on Summer Street, a lot of them. And I did a lot of them in the fall and winter. There was a practical reason for this. Once the sun set the temperature dropped but then stayed pretty steady. 11 PM, 1 AM, it was about the same. I found it tough dressing for rides where the sun is setting. That's when it's warm in the sun and bone-chilling cold in the shade.

Eliminate the sun and there's no major temperature variations.

This was especially key in the winter, when risking a bit in the late afternoon meant frozen knees just 30 minutes later. Instead I could get on the bike confident that the temperature wouldn't vary more than a degree or two for the whole ride.

GMF and Julie

One chillier night I went out with two good friends. I told the story here so I'll leave it at that.

Before they moved out west they lived two houses down from the corner where the Pathfinder came blasting out of the side road.


So what's that got to do with tonight's 70 degree weather?

Well, for one thing I'm not out doing sprints on Summer Street. Heck, I'm not even on a bike.


There's a four year old upstairs who I'll check on shortly because I promised I'd do so before I went to bed. A few hours ago I read him stories for 30 or 40 minutes, something I never thought I'd be able to do, never mind want to do. Reading to kids was agonizing for me, just agonizing. I suffered through it when I read to friends' kids (they didn't know so don't feel bad, I wanted to be a good friend and good babysitter so I read to them even though it was pure agony for me at the time).


With Junior I look forward to reading him stories, even if I'm so tired that I have to reboot my brain every few pages to be able to see the words. He knows the books anyway so when I mentally blank out he'll correct me, looking at me with a bit of concern while he "reads" the sentence the way it's actually written.

Then at some point he'll roll over, pulling his blanket over him. It's the sign he's just about to pass out. I don't stop reading though because he'll pop back up if I do. He'll pop back out if I fuzz out and have to reboot again as well. I know he's done when he doesn't pop out or if his arm relaxes and I can see his sleeping face.

Tonight, like usual, I passed out for a bit after I finished reading him stories. I came to sort of slowly, the Missus tapping my shoulder gently. I know not to move quickly because Junior moves around a lot and I don't want to boot him off his bed or elbow him in the neck. This time he was by up by my shoulders so it was okay. Other times he'll be down on top of my feet.

I got up and came downstairs.


My Pops is in another room, the third bedroom here. He's a bit older than Junior, of course. I put him to bed just a little while ago, after feeding him and stuff. His stares have been less blank the last couple days but I'm pretty sure he didn't know who I was today. He might have yesterday but it's been a few months since I've seen any recognition in his face. He hasn't been able to talk in many years. He really can't do anything for himself except for walk very slowly so I do everything for him. He's slipping away, slowly but surely.

But he's my dad. And because it can be so, it is, and he's here.


The Missus is upstairs. She has to wake up early, she needs her sleep, and I do my dad's stuff so there's an hour or two where I just have to do that, separate from her. I suppose it's like going on a training ride or something, it's just that in this case I'm taking care of my dad.

The other night we were cleaning up after a meal or maybe we were working together to get some food ready for my dad. Whatever we were doing, we were doing "grown up stuff". There is no dread or agony or whatever in these tasks. They're what needs to be done so you just get them done.

At some point I straightened my aching back, pausing whatever I was doing.

"You know, youth is special. You can never go back."
"I think about what I did when I was younger. Summer Street Sprints. Drive around the country for four weeks. Tour de Michigan. I'll never be able to do that stuff again. And, in a way, I don't think I want to. I'm glad I did it but it's just not part of what's possible now."

Tonight we worked together, bounced our energy between us. I read to Junior but after she took him to the playground. Before that Junior hung out with me while I cooked some food on the grill. We ate together, the three of us (with my dad I learned the hard way it's a bit risky to have him eat at the table so I feed him separately). We worked together on presenting Junior with an unambiguous set of expectations for certain things that weren't super clear before.

We got stuff done.

It's been a long time since the Missus and I were standing on the side of Summer Street, chatting with our friend Sean, before that Pathfinder obliterated the Malibu.

I can't imagine now being back there, back then. And back then I certainly could not have imagined where I'd be now, not at all.